If given a physical copy of Planetfall I would place it on the ground and stomp on it. Then I would probably take out a sledgehammer and pulverize it. After that I would push all of the little pieces together in a pile and light it on fire. Needless to say, I did not much enjoy Planetfall.
I was playing the game with Claire who was far more patient and optimistic than I. She insisted that we first try to play without a walk-through so we could get a sense of the game. Looking back, that was a reasonable and probably smart thing to do. However, after about a minute and a half, my patience was about as thin as a runway model. After the game told us “I don’t understand the word ‘don’t’” I think I blurted out, “just Google the damn walk-through!” I would normally describe myself as a calm and patient person, but this game frustrated me to the point of cursing (I may have muttered some pretty obscene things).
Because of my frustration, I could have really cared less about Floyd. He seemed nice enough. I envisioned him having the biggest puppy dog eyes ever.
I liked when he bounced up and down or rubbed his head against your shoulder. And I enjoyed when he would ask “Are we going to try something dangerous now?” It reminded me of when Pinky would ask, “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” But overall, I didn’t have much emotion invested in him. In fact, earlier today Claire texted me “FLOYD DIES. I’m so glad we never made it to that point. I would have been sad.” I responded, “Oh man. Yeah. It would have been hard to lose such a good friend.” What I was really thinking though: “Who f-ing cares?” Sure Floyd was cute, but he could have walked off a cliff and exploded, and I probably wouldn’t have felt any different. I hate to be such a Debbie Downer, but I was so annoyed by the whole concept of the game, that I couldn’t even give Floyd a chance.
Despite my rage, I will say that I was impressed that such a complex game could be developed on a floppy disk in 1983. For me personally, even with modern technology, I don’t think there is much that could be done to a text-based adventure game that would make it more compelling. If I had to make a suggestion though, I would have liked more of an initial setup that explained the setting and the situation and defined a clear objective of the game. That way, players would not be wandering around aimlessly, wondering what they are supposed to be doing (I realize that many people find this challenge enjoyable; clearly I am not one of them). Additionally, it could be interesting if some of the rooms contained a puzzle or riddle similar to those found in the Doctor Who game (setting the frequency, matching the wires). This could provide more clear-cut challenges that offer some form of instant gratification (I can’t say that I felt any sense of accomplishment after eating the red goo, dropping the survival kit, picking up the upper elevator access card, and sliding the upper elevator access card though the slot).
As far as making non-player characters more compelling, perhaps there could be more of them. I like the idea of a loyal “sidekick” such as Floyd, but there could be additional characters throughout the game that provide information and help advance the story. Further, there could be an evil character, or “boss” such as Bowser in Super Mario that the player must defeat. This would also help to clarify the objective.
From a design standpoint, Planetfall is quite amazing (even I will admit that). However, the unclear objective, limited vocabulary, and overall confusingness (I know that’s not a real word) of the game left me wanting to light it on fire.